John Carroll steps up its shutouts

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Matt Feeney, a senior linebacker for John Carroll, leads the team -- which is second in the nation in total defense -- in tackles wtih 38.
John Carroll athletics photo

There was an air of uncertainty about how John Carroll would be on the defensive side of the ball during the 2013 season.

A new defensive coordinator was in town in Brandon Staley, and that meant a new defense would be put into place.

Staley's credentials wouldn't be an issue. His resume was impressive, having made coaching stops at Northern Illinois, Division III powerhouse St. Thomas, junior college power Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and at Tennessee.

The question was, how would the players adapt to what Staley was trying to do with a team that didn't record any shutouts during a 6-4 campaign in 2012. Making the situation a little tougher was the fact that Staley wasn't with the team until the start of fall camp.

"We undersood we were going to have to stay focused and adapt to what he was teaching us," said senior linebacker Matt Feeney, a three-year letter-winner. "It was definitely different than what we were used to, but coach [Staley] didn't let us make excuses. We picked up on it quickly, and it's paid off."

The switch from a 4-3 to 3-4 front has indeed paid off for the Blue Streaks, who have blanked three of their first four opponents, including the last two. John Carroll rolled to a 28-0 win over Otterbein two weeks ago and kept Capital off the scoreboard in a 54-0 win. The other shutout was a 41-0 win over St. Norbert in the opener.

Only Baldwin Wallace has managed to score on the No. 21 Blue Streaks, who still beat the Yellow Jackets 27-7.

Feeney has been key to the success, tallying 38 tackles, and he said that while the defense is thrilled with its efforts up to this point, it refuses to become complacent.

"We're not satisfied," Feeney said. "It comes down to us executing every week and playing as hard as we can the entire game. We've all bought into the system, but we know we have to keep working hard if we are going to continue to win games."

Staley said the success of the defense, which is allowing only 177.5 yards per game, is a credit to the players and the effort they put forth every week in practice and in games. He doesn't go into each week stressing the importance of a shutout. All Staley wants to see is his players go out and compete as hard as they can for 60 minutes.

"If we play as well as we can, the results will take care of themselves," Staley said. "Our focus is on one play at a time. We are constantly communicating and making adjustments during the game depending on what the opponent is doing. It's made a big difference."

John Carroll was picked to finish fifth this season, but already, it has beaten two of the teams picked in front of it (Baldwin Wallace and Otterbein).

The Blue Streaks have forced seven turnovers and are holding opponents to an 18 percent conversion rate on third down. They have allowed just one red zone touchdown as well.

First-year head coach Tom Arth has been impressed with the steps his defense has taken in a short of amount of time.

"The coaches do a good job of getting those guys ready to play," Arth said. "They've been together only a short time, but they have handled everything very well. The experience they have does help and they are very athletic. The big thing is they are always working to get better as a unit."

Senior redshirt linebacker Mitch Krotz leads the defense with 41 tackles while defensive lineman David Porter has come through with 25 tackles.

Defensive backs Brody Zangaro (22) and Marty Gibbons (14) have also been key contributors. Seven other players have at least 10 tackles.

"We have a great group of players, but the thing about the guys is they take time to watch the film and are critical of themselves.  They want to learn from their mistakes and improve. We've only been together as a defense since August. We all know there is so much more we can get better at this year."

Feeney said the defense doesn't have a difficult time making those adjustments because it is tested each week in practice by an offense that has scored 27 or more in every game and is averaging 452 yards per game.

Mark Myers has thrown for 1,252 yards and 10 touchdowns while DaQuan Grobsmith has rushed for 309 yards and six touchdowns. Marshal Howell and Aramis Greenwood have each caught 21 passes on the year. Both players have three touchdowns apiece as well.

"It's a tremendous help because we feel like we have one of the best offenses in the country," Feeney said. "We enjoy going at it with them because they challenge us. It keeps us sharp and focused. Even our scout team offense does a great job of getting us ready for games every week."

Arth said the team does indeed work well together in preparation for games and admires the focus the team takes with it to the field each week on game day.

"We have no problem getting them to go to work each day to get ready for the next game," Arth said. "They understand you can't look past anyone and that you have to be able to focus on what you can do as a team to be ready for a game. This is a special group, and if they continue to improve, we have a chance to be a very good team."

Feeney is thrilled how things have worked out, and while he knows the road doesn't get any easier to travel on going forward -- the Blue Streaks close with nationally ranked Heidelberg and defending national champion and top-ranked Mount Union --- he is enjoying the ride n his final season.

"It's great, especially with this being my senior year," Feeney said. "We've come together as a team, and it feels awesome to be part of a winning team. Every game in our league is a challenge, and we know we always have to be ready to play, but it's good to see our hard work pay off. We want it to continue to pay off."

In the poll

No. 1 Mount Union extended the nation's longest win streak to 19 games on Saturday with a 58-7 beating of Ohio Northern in an OAC game in Ada.

The Purple Raiders (4-0, 3-0 OAC) held the Polar Bears (2-2, 1-2) to 160 yards of offense, including only 82 in the opening half as they built a 44-0 advantage.

Tre Jones helped fuel the impressive defensive effort by returning an interception 36 yards for a touchdown. Tom Lally led Mount Union with eight tackles and Alex
Kocheff tallied seven tackles and recovered a fumble.

Mount Union rolled up 631 yards of offense behind Kevin Burke's 304 passing yards. Burke threw four touchdown passes and rushed for 62 yards.

No. 12 Heidelberg played under the lights for the first time since 2011 and lit up Marietta, rolling to a 68-17 victory on a night when Michael Mees threw for a career-high five touchdowns. He was 13-of-18 for 180 yards as Heidelberg (4-0, 3-0 OAC) remained unbeaten.

The Student Princes scored 60 points for the second consecutive week, marking the first time in school history that a Heidelberg team has scored 60-plus points in back-to-back weeks.

Heidelberg rolled up 629 yards, and Cartel Brooks helped pave the way as he rushed for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Ryan Fischer returned a punt 77 yards for a score, and the Student Princes limited the Pioneers (0-4, 0-3) to 268 yards of offense. Andy Kujawa led the defense with nine tackles. Six other players tallied at least five tackles.

Running back Mason Zurek shredded Wooster for 228 yards and two touchdowns as No. 17 Wabash buried the Fighting Scots 48-14 on Saturday in an NCAC game.

Michael Putko threw for 206 yards and one touchdown while Sean Hildebrand caught four passes for 79 yards, including a touchdown pass in the win.

Wabash led 38-7 at halftime and never let Wooster get on track. Cody Buresh made his presence felt on defense as he racked up 12 tackles to go along with a sack and a forced fumble.

Nate Scola returned a fumble 66 yards for a touchdown and also came through with nine tackles and three sacks.

No. 18 Wittenberg continued its dominance of opponents, blasting, Hiram 49-9 on Saturday.

The Tigers (3-1, 3-0 NCAC) have outscored their last three opponents 153-9 and are now 14-0 lifetime against the Terriers (2-3, 1-3).

All but one of Wittenberg's scoring drives covered 53 yards or less and Desi Kirkman helped lead the way on offense as three of his six catches were for touchdowns. Kirkman tallied 140 yards and Reed Florence threw for 237 yards and four scores.

The Tigers were stingy on defense, allowing only 204 yards, thanks in part to the play of Brady Vanover. The freshman lineman tied for the team-lead in tackles with 11 and also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. Spencer Leno racked up 11 tackles as well.

DaQuan Grobsmith pushed his career rushing total to 2,000 yards and helped No. 21 John Carroll knock off Capital 54-0. The Blue Streaks were playing their first game as a ranked team since 2007.

Grobsmith rushed for 117 yards for John Carroll (4-0, 3-0) and also scored a career-high three touchdowns. Mark Myers threw for 242 yards. He completed 18 of his 20 passes, including two for touchdowns to Alex Kline.

Matt Feeney and Mitch Krontz anchored the defense, which is one of the best in the nation, by tallying 10 tackles apiece. John Carroll limited the Crusaders to only eight first downs and one third-down conversion.

Two school records fell in No. 23 Thomas More's 61-0 Homecoming win over Geneva in a PAC win on Saturday.

The Saints (4-0, 3-0 PAC) set a record for points in a quarter, hanging 34 on the board in the first, and for points in a half with 55.

Thomas More came through with its third shutout in four games and limited the Golden Tornadoes (3-2, 2-1) to 88 yards of offense.

Domonique Hayden gashed Geneva for 195 yards on 15 carries. He scored three touchdowns as well. Geneva rolled up 426 yards of total offense, with 304 of those
yards coming on the ground. Jensen Gebhardt threw for 99 yards and two scores and also rushed for a touchdown.

Dylan Ruter played well defensively as he rolled up seven tackles. Kyle Fuller returned an interception for a touchdown and also racked up five tackles. He forced two fumbles as well.

Inside the OAC


moved into rare air as a football program on Saturday with its 35-28 overtime win against Wilmington.

The Muskies (1-3, 1-2), who rallied from a 21-point deficit for the victory, became the 41st program in Division III history to get to 500 wins as a program.

Muskingum outscored Wilmington 28-7 in the second half to force overtime and got the win when Cody Williams hit Wes Rataiczak on a 13-yard touchdown pass in
the extra session. Otterbein stepped up on defense in overtime as well, stopping the Quakers (0-4, 0-3) four times inside the five-yard line on their overtime possession.

Rataiczak caught nine passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns while Williams, making his first career start, threw for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  He rushed for 46 yards.

Steven Vinson Jr. and Luke Weber tallied eight and five tackles, respectively.

Tarrell Starckey had a big day on defense for Wilmington, racking up 19 tackles. Jeremy Duncan caught eight passes for a conference-record 327 yards and three touchdowns to aid Wilmington's offense.

Drew Ervin came through with a career-best rushing performance and Otterbein knocked off Baldwin Wallace 19-7 on Saturday.

Ervin rushed for 234 yards and a touchdown for the Cardinals (2-2, 2-1 OAC), who racked up a total of 391 yards while holding the Yellow Jackets (2-2, 1-2) to 301 yards. Ervin scored his lone touchdown on a 76-yard run to give Otterbein a 13-7 lead at halftime.

Ben Sizemore threw for 126 yards and a score while Eric Mitchell, Wes McKeever and Austin Jones racked up eight tackles apiece.

Michael Slack played well in defeat for Baldwin Wallace, throwing for 114 yards and rushing for 65 yards, including 21 on a touchdown run in the opening quarter.

Inside the MIAA

Adrian cleared its first hurdle on the road to another MIAA championship with a hard-fought 17-14 win over Hope in the battle of the top two teams in the league's preseason poll.

The Flying Dutchmen were averaging 489.5 yards per game but managed just 277 yards against the Bulldogs (4-1, 1-0 MIAA), who beat Hope (3-2, 0-1) for the fifth time in the last six meetings.

Aaron Tenney threw for 174 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both of which found the hands of Nathan Hartline. Hartline's second touchdown catch gave Adrian a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Hartline caught five passes for 128 yards.

Charles Fleck led Adrian with 11 tackles while Dontae Bridgeman recorded a sack and forced a fumble in the win.

Shawn Jackson rushed for both of Hope's touchdowns and finished his day with 251 yards on 22 carries.  Jackson highlighted his day with a 67-yard touchdown run.

Olivet remained the only MIAA team without a loss as it opened league play with a 20-13 come-from-behind win over Alma on Saturday. The Comets are 5-0 for only the fourth time in program history after rallying from a 10-0 deficit. The last time Olivet won its first five games was in 1967. It also beat Alma (0-5, 0-1 MIAA) on the road for the first time since 1973.

Javier Lara scored on a 17-yard run on the third play of overtime to put the Comets in front for good. Braden Black threw for 139 yards and also rushed for 86 yards. Tyre Alexander caught three passes for 45 yards.

Noah Keefer and Curtis French were tough to deal with on defense as they tallied nine and eight tackles, respectively. Alma managed  279 yards of offense and was led by Jarrett Leister, who threw for 201 yards on 14-of-27 passing. Tyler Watters caught five passes for 97 yards. Olivet finished with 293 yards in the win.

Inside the PAC

Ryan Hickey deflected a potential game-tying field goal attempt by Westminster with 42 seconds remaining and helped Grove City hang on for a 24-21 win over the Titans on Saturday.

The Titans did get one more shot to tie or win, but Bobby Tuttle intercepted a pass as time expired.  Tuttle finished his day with nine tackles while Chris Gibbs led the defense with 11 tackles. The Wolverines (3-2, 1-2 PAC) held the Titans (1-3, 1-2) to 315 yards.

Grove City, which has won four of the last five against Westminster, finished with 378 yards. Brian Pell was 19-of-34 for 162 yards. Pell also rushed for a touchdown.

Dak Britt led Westminster as he went 22-of-39 for 276 yards. Britt threw one touchdown pass. This was the ninth time in the last 10 meetings that a game between
Grove City and Westminster has been decided by seven points or less.

Matt Grimard became the first player in Bethany history to go over 10,000 yards in a career ashe led the Bison to a surprising 24-19 win over Washington and Jefferson on Saturday.

Aaron Frye secured the win by picking off a pass in the end zone in the closing seconds as the Bison beat the Presidents for the first time since 1982.

Bethany (2-3, 2-1) jumped in front 24-0 and then held on for the thrilling win over the Presidents (3-2, 2-1).

Grimard completed 20 of his 38 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown, and his 14-yard throw to Eric Blinn in the third quarter put him over 10,000. Blinn caught five passes for 72 yards.

Tre Goode tallied eight tackles and deflected three passes to pace the Bison on defense.

Dion Wiegand led the Presidents as he rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Bliss threw for 273 yards and a touchdown.

Inside the NCAC

Mason Espinosa threw five touchdown passes in the opening half of action against Allegheny as Ohio Wesleyan rolled to a 50-7 win.

Espinosa was 16-of-18 for 290 yards in the opening half and threw for 368 yards total. He completed a total of 24 passes on 28 attempts. Scott Jenkings caught seven catches for 109 yards. Jenkins caught one touchdown pass.

Kevin Herman broke a school record for punt return yards in a game as he returned five for 157 yards. The old record was 108 set back in 1968.

DaVaughn DuBose tallied eight tackles to pace the defense. The Bishops (3-1, 2-1) finished with 434 yards and limited the Gators (0-5, 0-4) to 207 yards. Kyle Smith rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown for the Gators.

Denison is 4-1 for the first time since 1986 after rallying for a 42-21 win over DePauw on Saturday The Big Red, which is 3-1 in the NCAC, trailed 21-14 in the third before taking a 35-21 lead into the final quarter of play.

Brandon Sklenar threw for 292 yards on 23-of-28 passing and also threw four touchdown passes. He also rushed for 41 yards and a pair of scores. His six touchdowns in one game tied the school record, which was set in 1966. Sklenar's 14-yard run in the third broke the 21-21 tie and the Big Red never looked back.

Joel Elliott tallied nine tackles to pace Denison while Pat Foley added eight tackles.

Matt Hunt threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tigers (0-4, 0-3), who managed 297 yards of offense. The Big Red rolled up 487 yards.

Inside the Tartans and Spartans

Carnegie Mellon scored two defensive touchdowns in the third quarter and rolled to a 34-7 win over Saint Vincent on Saturday.

Alexander D'Angelo returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown and Jack Butler picked off a pass late in the third and bolted 68 yards for the touchdown as the
Tartans (3-2) built a 21-0 lead and never looked back.

Troy Witt came through with the second 100-yard game of his career as he carried the ball 18 times for 100 yards. Vince DeMarchi and Eric Rolfes tallied six tackles apiece. DeMarchi also racked up sack.

Carnegie Mellon finished with 262 yards of offense.

Case Western Reserve (1-4), which has lost three consecutive games, did not play this past weekend and does not return to action until Oct. 19 when it plays at Puget Sound.

Notes: The dedication of Bill Robinson Field in Ada didn't go as well as hoped for Ohio Northern, which lost 58-7 to No. 1 Mount Union, but Patrick Angle played well as he completed 17 of his 29 passes for 106 yards. The Polar Bears finished with 160 yards...Justin Danzy delivered a stellar performance in Kalamazoo's 38-31 win over Trine on Saturday. Danzy completed 37 of his 51 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns. He rolled up 452 yards of total offense and was named the league's player fo the week for the second time this year...Carter Hill put together another stellar effort as he led Waynesburg to a 35-21 win over Thiel on Saturday. Hill was 31-of-40 for 314 yards and three scores. He also rushed for a touchdown in the win on a day when the Yellow Jackets built a 21-0 lead and didn't look back...Oberlin got a strong defensive performance in the second half, not allowing an offensive touchdown, but the Yeomen fell 21-14 on Saturday. Kyle Kessler and Kirby Livingston each tallied 10 tackles. Zach Kisley tallied seven tackles, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and picked off a pass.

Contact Me: I always love hearing from the readers. Feel free to email me or follow me on Twitter @BLester1993. And if you have a story idea, go ahead and shoot it my way.

Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

2012-14 columnist: Brian Lester
2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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